What is the Rapture?
The two central passages in reference to the Rapture are as follows:
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
At one point yet future, the Lord Jesus will descend from heaven into the atmosphere. He will first resurrect those who have died in Christ, that is, deceased Church Age believers. An instant later, the bodies of those in Christ who are alive at that moment will likewise be translated (changed) or transformed into heavenly bodies, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (twinkling. Gr. rhipe, rhee-pay.’ A quick movement.) and will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air to always be with the Lord from that time forth. Though all of the events from the descent of the Lord through the catching up of the saints into heaven may be thought of as the Rapture, the actual catching up of the saints is the Rapture proper.
One thing we must note: Neither the passages we’ve already reviewed nor any other passage shows any indication that the Rapture is to be taken symbolically or allegorically. Scripture straightforwardly presents it as a literal event involving literal resurrections and translations and instant bodily removal of the saints to meet the Lord in the clouds.
The Timing of the Rapture
Jesus declared, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matthew 24:36); but there are passages that locate it relative to other events or periods of time.
Scripture Teaches a Pre-Tribulation Rapture
Prophetic Placements in the Feasts of Israel
In Leviticus 23 and elsewhere, God enjoined Israel under the Law to observe seven annual feasts, each of which carries prophetic significance, and which together constitute a blueprint for God’s plan from Calvary to the Millennial Kingdom. They are divided into spring and summer festivals with a significant summer hiatus between. Here they are in summary.
The Spring Festivals
1) Passover (Leviticus 23:5) is prophetic of the crucifixion of Jesus, and .
2) Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6-8) speaks of the sinlessness of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
3) Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9-14) is prophetic of the Jesus’ resurrection. “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
4) Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-21) is prophetic of the formation of the church. Part of the Levitical ceremony consisted of the simultaneous offering of two leavened (sinful) loaves (Leviticus 23:17). On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the Spirit baptized two sinful “loaves” into one body: For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles (1 Corinthians 12:13) that He might make the two into one new man (Ephesians 2:15).
The Summer Hiatus
After prescribing the four spring festivals and before prescribing the three fall festivals to begin four months later, the Lord declared, “When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien (Leviticus 23:22).
This seems completely out of context. What was the Lord up to here? Jesus said to His disciples, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest?” Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest” (John 4:35).
Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits and Pentecost have all been fulfilled, and now is the season for us, Jesus’ disciples, to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19) and thereby bring in the harvest for Him. (See also the Parable of the Sower: Matthew 13:3-9, Mark 4:3-9.)
The Fall Festivals
5) Trumpets (Leviticus 23:23-25)
The only biblical requirement for the keeping of the Day of Trumpets is the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn. Does the blowing of trumpets ring a bell in regard to the Rapture? 1 Corinthians 15:52: The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable.
1 Thessalonians 4.16: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
Trumpets, is prophetic of the Rapture, and in the sequence of prophetic events, it occurs after the Church Age.
6) Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27)
The Day of Atonement is a day of solemnity in which all Israelites were to afflict their souls for their sinfulness. A goat was to be sacrificed, and its blood brought by the high priest into the holy of holies as an offering for the sins of the people. A second goat was then driven into the wilderness, symbolically carrying away Israel’s sins. (Leviticus 16:1-34, esp. v. 10)
The removal of Israel’s sins will be actualized at the end of the Great Tribulation when all Jews who survive Satan’s most virulent attempt to annihilate them (afflicting their bodies as well as souls) will receive Jesus as their Messiah, fulfilling the key provision of the New Covenant that God made with them: they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them (Jeremiah 31:34. Also Zechariah 12:10, 13:1.)
The fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, then, is the Great Tribulation, the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7 ASV), the central purpose of which is the salvation of all Israel, meaning all Israelites alive at that time (Romans 11:26).
We see, then, that the Rapture takes place at the end of the Church Age and before the Great Tribulation. (There is one other feast, the Feast of Tabernacles, which is fulfilled by the return of the Lord to the Earth: Leviticus 23:33-44; Hosea 5:15; Zechariah 14:16; Matthew 23:39; 2 Corinthians 5:1; 2 Peter 1:13-14; Revelation 21:3).
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, 5:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 and Revelation 3:10 likewise teach forthrightly or clearly imply a pre-tribulation Rapture. The structure of the book of Revelation does the same. Chapters 1-3 deal with church events prior to the Tribulation, and 19-22, deal with events involving the church beginning with the Second Coming of the Lord from heaven with His church; but the church is not so much as mentioned in chapters 6-18, the Tribulation chapters. Where was the church during the Tribulation? In heaven with the Lord, having gotten there by means of the Rapture prior to the Tribulation.
The Rapture Will Likely Occur Immediately Before the Tribulation
“They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built;but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:27-29).
Life was going on as usual until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Verse 29: on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Jesus prefaced these verses by saying, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man.
It is not the Rapture that will mark the beginning of the Great Tribulation, but Anti-Christ’s signing of a seven-year peace treaty with Israel (Daniel 9:27). However, Luke 17:27-29 seems to declare that the Rapture will occur on the very day of the signing, probably immediately before it.
Who Will Be Raptured?
A. Those in Christ
1 Thessalonians 4:16 states that those in Christ will be raptured, also 1 Corinthians 15:22-23. Verse 22: “ For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” Verse 23: “But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming.”
Again, the Festival of Firstfruits is prophetic of Christ’s resurrection, and Trumpets is prophetic of the Rapture of those who are Christ’s at His coming. In light of verse 22, the latter part of verse 23 refers specifically to the resurrection of the deceased in Christ. But who, exactly, is in Christ?
An examination of Scripture will show that “in Christ” and other such terms,” in Jesus,” “in Christ Jesus,” “in Him,” “whom” and “in the Lord,” are used, without exception, for believers from Pentecost through the Rapture – in other words, for church saints; for the Church Age began at Pentecost and will terminate with the Rapture. Remember: On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the Spirit baptized two sinful “loaves” into one body: For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles (1 Corinthians 12:13) that He might make the two into one new man (Ephesians 2:15).
All pre and post-church saints will likewise come to dwell with the Lord in heaven, but the Rapture involves only those in Christ, the church, believers from Pentecost to the Rapture – and all in Christ.
B. All Who Are in Christ
1 Corinthians 15:51
“We will all be changed.”
1 Thessalonians 5:3-5
“While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day.”
The Tribulation will not overtake the Thessalonian believers like a thief, because they are all sons of light and sons of day.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
A plain reading of the passage gives the impression that all will be included, and no hint is dropped that any will be left out. We who are alive and remain: is found twice, in verses 14 and 17, and is all, inclusive.
In verse 18, Paul exhorts the Thessalonians, Therefore, comfort one another with these words. Now, if Paul had left any impression that some of the Thessalonians might be left behind at the Rapture, on what basis could they comfort one another? These all passages leave no loophole for “most” or “some.”
Other passages that plainly declare that the Tribulation is for unbelievers and not for church saints are 1 Thessalonians 3-5 and 2 Thessalonians 2:8-13. The Tribulation is not for those who have been chosen . . . for salvation, but is for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For what reason is the Tribulation for them? So that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth.
All church saints will be raptured and none will experience the Tribulation; yet, some passages have been misunderstood to mean that some church saints will be left behind for the sake of chastisement or sanctification. Let’s turn to I Corinthians to put this notion to rest.
In chapter 5, Paul spends thirteen verses taking the Corinthians to task. He begins, “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife (v. 1).
Paul considered this man’s offense so severe that he urged the church to excommunicate him (v. 13), and he himself decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (The destruction of his flesh refers to the destruction of the body, even unto death, if necessary, if there is no repentance.)
Now note: Paul did not know whether or not the man would repent; yet it was to this same church – in the same letter – that he wrote, “we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed” – even that Corinthian man.
Scriptures are quoted from the New American Standard translation.